Pitt coach Paul Chryst put it best when he said, “Two days in underwear.”
That pretty much sums up the start of spring practice this week when Chryst and his coaching staff walked the team through more than six hours of unpadded (shorts and helmets only) drills at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side.
Players and coaches now take a week off for spring break, with everyone heading home or on a long-awaited vacation. Coaches, for instance, have had almost no days off since training camp opened in August, moving seamlessly to the 2012 regular season, bowl game, recruiting and spring practice preparations.
The next practice (third of 15 allowed in the spring by the NCAA) is March 17. All but one of the remaining 12 sessions will be in pads, culminating in the spring game April 12 at Bethel Park High School.
It’s too early to make any determinations, but when the pads come out, that’s when things get interesting.
– The most striking aspect of camp has been the velocity of the passing game. By that I mean, Tom Savage and Chad Voytik can put some serious smoke on the football. Especially Savage.
“This is about as strong as my arm has ever been,” said Savage, who hasn’t played since the 2010 season at Rutgers before he transferred to Arizona and Pitt.
A few veteran observers of Pitt practice, going back nearly a decade, said Savage has the strongest arm seen on campus since Joe Flacco.
Without a fierce pass rush in his face, Savage has shown the ability to throw the deep ball with some accuracy. Voytik can move out of the pocket and throw well on the run.
Chryst is a long way from making a significant public pronouncement about the quarterback position, but he did say this: “Not disappointed in any one of them. A long way to go. Certainly pleased they are on track.”
With junior Tray Anderson (sick) and freshman Tre Chapman (hamstring) out of action, Savage and Voytik have taken every snap. Their arms could use spring break as much as anyone.
– Savage, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, certainly looks the part. He is the same height, 11 pounds lighter and wears the same number (7) as the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger. Not comparing. Just saying.
Voytik, 6-1, 205, is strikingly smaller when he stands next to Savage, but he has plenty of strength, size and skills to play the position. His ability to make plays outside the pocket might be an important component of the offense, especially if the totally rebuilt offensive line is slow to develop.
Savage will be 23 next month and played two years at Rutgers. At his size, he won’t be sacked easily.
Voytik just turned 19 and never has played college football. But he’s smart and competitive. Coaches love those two traits as much as arm strength.
– If it was up to me? When Savage learns the offense and the nuances of the position, he will be difficult to keep out of the starting lineup.
But I’ll add this: Pitt has more depth at quarterback than it has had in many years and, finally, a couple of guys who appear capable of throwing the ball deep and hitting the target with some regularity.
– The top seven offensive linemen (so far) are tackles Adam Bisnowaty, Juantez Hollins and T.J. Clemmings, guards Cory King, Matt Rotheram and Ryan Schlieper and center Gabe Roberts.
Guess how many played in their current position last season? One, Schlieper, who has lost his starting job at right guard to Rotheram.
There is reason for hope, however, because no one is out of position such as King and Rotheram were last year at tackle.
“I feel like I can really get my hands on people in that short area at guard,” King said.
He’s also lost 8 pounds to 317 and wouldn’t mind losing 7 more. He said he’s cut out late-night meals, pizzas, hoagies and breads, and makes sure he eats breakfast to get his metabolism started.
– Several players sat out the first two days, including wide receiver Brandon Ifill (knee) and cornerbacks Cullen Christian (calf strain) and Brendon Felder (foot). That allows Clairton’s Kevin Weatherspoon, Brashear’s Ed Tinker, Chris Wuestner, Ronald Jones and Chris Davis to get more reps at wide receiver while Clairton’s Trenton Coles gets a longer look at cornerback behind the firmly entrenched starters K’Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts.
– Coaches are taking a look at redshirt freshman Demitrious Davis, who is Chris’ twin, at running back where the backup spot to Rushel Shell is up for grabs. Junior Isaac Bennett and redshirt sophomore Malcolm Crockett are the incumbents.
– Senior Dan Mason is losing valuable practice time at middle linebacker while Chryst holds him out for what has been termed off-the-field issues. Poor timing, for sure, because Shane Gordon (neck) has yet to practice.
– The talent at tight end is young, but interesting. Sophomore J.P. Holtz, 6-4, 245; freshman Scott Orndoff, 6-5, 245; and redshirt juniors Drew Carswell, 6-4, 220, and Manasseh Garner, 6-2, 220, are capable of catching the ball in traffic and creating mismatches in the secondary. And all our local: Holtz (Shaler), Orndoff (Seton-La Salle); Carswell (Sto-Rox) and Garner (Brashear).
Graduating from high school early was a smart move by the talented Orndoff. Lots of competition at that position. Garner is a transfer from Wisconsin where he worked with Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph.
Garner said former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema didn’t want him to leave, but when he saw Garner was determined, he suggested Pitt.
“Coach B, thank, God for him,” Garner said.